Monday, October 31, 2011

THE NEW AGE

ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- Having endured an early, rare and very damaging snowstorm, which unloaded yet another of Nature's recent tirades, most of us here are in the dark, without power. Not a problem since we are all descendants of humans who had little but fire, and we live in a world that sees much of its inhabitants do without. So, OK.

OK to a point, and then principle makes it not all right. OK until you meet up with officialdom's response in this NEW AGE of red tape, cost cutting, worry about lawsuits and a sense of incompetence.

Most if us in my area have been without electricity for 48 hours now, with predictions of three or four days more. Still OK, since conditions must be made safe for repair people, especially with so many downed trees and some live wires.

Yet there is so far little indication that much restoration has been made. How long does it take to assess a situation, call in the troops and get things working?

If it is a matter of cutting trees, in another age -- just a few decades ago -- my neighbors and I would have cut the limbs ourselves. Today many still would. So would the great army of landscapers and their hard working staffs. Why were they not called in to help so that power could then be restored? Most of the trees are not near dangerous downed lines.

Utility crews are more than willing to work, but new rules keep them from toiling beyond certain hours, though they did years ago. Adrenalin can chase away fatigue, and surely  safe conditions could prevail in overtime. Perhaps the utilities do not want to pay overtime, not surprising in this deregulated market where, as with Wall Street, the bottom line is paramount, the customers be damned.

Finally, many intersections are without traffic lights. Still OK, since we can all use our heads. But in the old days, every cop would have reported in and willingly directed traffic. So would have retired officers.

Ah, the NEW AGE. Watch the money. Avoid lawsuits. "Not my job, so why should I do it?"

Monday, October 24, 2011

HALLOWEEN MOMENT


   TALMAN, N.Y. --  Quietly done, non-fussed-about, get-it-done moments strike deep chords in the reflections of older life, or so it appears in a Halloween memory.
More than a few seasons ago, in the 1949 of my youth, living in this small hamlet of fruit orchards in Rockland County, an equally small church offered a Halloween party, and someone told my father, who was then working at both a nearby hospital and in a nursing home. He was trying to make ends meet, though my brother and I never knew it, so kept were we from the home economy by both our working parents.
In this second grade year, excitement was had by playing in the apple and peach orchards off Cherry Lane (never saw a cherry tree there) and watching horses train at the polo club where actor Burgess Meredith kept a steed. There was no downtown to walk to, a luxury, then a necessity I would come to enjoy when we again moved back to nearby Spring Valley. For this part of young life, imagination had great latitude and deep encouragement in a rural setting where sitting in a tree and day-dreaming was as good as watching “Captain Video and his Video Rangers” on TV came to be in the next year or so.
My brother Craig and I did manage to get together with other boys and some girls, however, and the Halloween party was to be one of them. It was a last-minute invite,  an offer made by a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital who thought it would be fun for us.
So my father left the hospital and picked us up at the Airmont and Cherry Lane schools, and we both sat in the 1939 Dodge as it made its way to the small church and its basement. When we arrived, the very nice woman organizing the party opened the door, saw us and quickly came outside. It seemed neither my brother or I had costumes, which are expected at Halloween parties. My father had had no time to get costumes and would have been pressed financially anyway.
The church lady who dashed out to save us embarrassment just as quickly had my dad bring us right across the street where there was another kind woman, a seamstress who worked from her home. In a jiffy, this lady whipped up two creative costumes, pinned together in flourish. We were fun-ready, my brother and I.
The memory of that 1949 Halloween party is now a blur, but its circumstances and three good people -- the woman at the hospital, the one in the church and the seamstress -- can never be forgotten. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

OCCUPYING AMERICA


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

   When was the last time America smiled? You see tears now, in the households where the unemployed sit for two years or more, from college graduates without hope, from those who bought into the American Dream only to have it dashed by an economy once built on the middle class and now controlled by those who ignore that class.

The young, the vibrant ones, the easy protesters, perhaps even attention-seeking, occupy Wall Street and increasingly across the world, but older people are now coming, too, their grievances of unequal opportunity and clueless government and lobbied officials stirring in a cauldron that promises to be a stew of real taste, a flavor that can grab attention. The focus toward changing government may well come.
Why are we here in this place, in America, in the world? When did the smiles of generational improvement, college and other achievement, satisfying, productive careers, improving health and a better future for more and more turn to forlorn, scared faces?
Nothing great happens in this great nation, in this, God’s experiment in participatory democracy, without going through a “system.” Prohibition, though a costly mistake that gave birth to organized crime, began with populism not unlike today’s Occupy Wall Street, which took on steam when it was legitimized -- enabled -- by the 18th Amendment. It took the system to make it real. World War II was not won by patriotism alone, by selfless soldiering, but by the system forged by a huge defense industry, by that system.
We see the system at work today against Occupy Wall Street, in New York, the nation, across the world. Police respond to a loose movement of occupiers as trespassers, even trouble-makers, and make arrests. Some leaders and candidates, the media, too, characterize the protest as ragtop, young, without a message beyond claiming that it represents the 99 percent who suffer from the 1 percent holding the purse strings. Give this movement time, though, a more diversified membership, set goals, offered solutions, charismatic leadership and demonstrated responsibility for non-violent protest that focuses on free airing of grievances, and it could grow to the point where the system recognizes it, and then things could begin to change. 
It’s happened before -- this nation’s independence was not likely. How could the disorganized, under-funded colonials defeat the British Empire? But here we are, a power greater than Britain. The Occupy Boston Harbor movement of the day gained focus, and so may Occupy Wall Street. The key is developing a system.
America is a gift from God. Its shaky beginning has endured, and we have helped save the world from inhumanity. This experiment must not end, must not go down in flames. The majority of our citizens are not physically with the few on the protest line, but the many in America today know full well that Congress and the presidency are broken systems, and great change must come if the nation is to survive. Special interests rule the roost, and somehow the people’s voice must become a lobby. 
Maybe then the system would create jobs,  perhaps in emerging technology, where we can again become world employment leaders.
Maybe then elected officials would be free of lobby money, with campaigns funded only by limited tax dollar so that Washington, states and municipalities listen to the people instead. 
Maybe then the wealthy with conscience, who recall their own upward climb, would help by loaning money to create jobs and also outright invest in America. They have the funds, and you know what? They would be repaid handsomely in renewed economic activity as consumerism “trickles UP,” not down (as it rarely has).
Maybe then the nation, free of special interest, whether moneyed or of political ideology, would decide what sort of health care, pension system and social service network a progressive world leader must have. We must work with private industry to fund it, not government, make it a profitable  enterprise, but with greed controls.
Maybe then we would recognize that the super rich were made even more so by our outsized expectations -- bigger houses, bigger cars, goods bought on the credit cuff. We enabled them through the system, shot ourselves in the foot.
America can smile again, should smile again, but it won’t come without change and sacrifice, not only from the ordinary people but from those who have the investment funds, who should be persuaded within the system.

Monday, October 10, 2011

OF A HOLIDAY, OF HOLIDAYS


     On this rearranged Columbus Day, courtesy of Congress’ move to make three-day weekends for pleasure, there were early signs this morning that not everyone had a day off, though too many have unwanted leisure time -- the growing number of unemployed, some chronically. But a portion of those still getting a paycheck were on the roads, adding to the noise level as minimum-wage landscapers started lawnmowers and leaf blowers to sing a shrill suburban tune and manning the counters at convenience stores, malls, etc.. No holiday for these guys.
On such a day, there will be parades to note the Italian explorer, who, working for a Spanish queen, stumbled upon what would become the Americas. Italian-American accomplishments will be noted, as they should be, though the achievements of all ethnic groups, which built and build these United States, stem from the first footprints of Columbus’ landfall at Hispaniola in 1492. Though Leif Ericson made it to North America about 500 years before, it was Columbus who set in motion European exploration of the “New World.”
Exploration of all sort ensued, and the cauldron of experimentation, inventiveness, democracy, independence and influence continues to be stirred. There have been missing ingredients, such as overdue recognition of the Native Americans chased to reservations, and, worse, killed, in manifest destiny; slavery; ethnic prejudice; and greed, which Republican President Theodore Roosevelt trust-busted for the public good and which on this Columbus Day again feeds growing protest across the land.
No American holiday is for itself any more, and perhaps never was. Labor Day. Memorial Day. Veterans Day. Workers may be off; children have no school; good weather brings out the barbecue and other leisure activities; officials note the particular day’s purpose, which some of us are reverent about, but for the great majority, the holiday is just that -- “a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.”
Enjoy Columbus Day. But please know this: Every holiday is actually followed by “labor days,” for when the 24 hours are up, it is those many days and nights that will make or break our stressed nation, as has been the challenge before, as has been the opportunity to afford us true holidays.

Monday, October 3, 2011

TOO MANY CHOICES

     Perhaps the country began going to seed when Dunkin’ Donuts ended the belly-up coffee counter, its wonderful java offered in welcome-pardner ceramic mugs. For a small price relative to these days, you could nurse the brew while you day-dreamed or maybe shot the breeze with a pal. There were no double-mocha lattes, no designer croissant sandwiches to complicate.
Reaching farther back, the old diners also had counters where the cuppa was even cheaper (5¢, 10¢), and where you were more likely to meet someone you knew or a village character, to have more of a hometown visit. Most “diners” today have menus longer than the counters back when. How did life get so entangled? When did so many choices hit us? 
Some parents begin making college plans for their children right out of the box, before they enroll them in the correct pre-school. Seniors on Part D of the national prescription drug plan face quarterly choices over which is cheapest, which gives the most. Young adults don’t know where they should build their lives -- will the jobs last? Will there always be a middle class?
The electorate is totally confused. Candidates push great rhetoric, make many grand promises that get lost in the system once elected. Whom do you trust?
The technologically challenged are befuddled by cellphones, computers, big-screen TVs. What buttons to push? What media/data/voice plan to buy?
The world promises to become even more complex. What careers to pursue in this economy? How to invest wisely?
This isn’t to say that back in the 1960s when Dunkin’ had a counter, life was always so simple it was easier to get through the day, to build a future. That was the decade of continuing civil rights battles, unsettled, unsettling controversy over the undeclared Vietnam War, the sexual renaissance and the start of Great Society social programs. Everything was already changing much more quickly than in the previous several decades. Even Dunkin’ was part of that, its coffee and donuts a leader in the rapidly appearing, ever-more-complex fast-food culture.
It is inevitable that change will beget more change, and that like a bus going downhill with uncertain brakes, the curves ahead will prove challenging. The curves will be many, as will be the bumps in the road. Do we, as individuals, as the nation, as the world get off and take another route?
I think, for me, I’d find that old diner, grab a cup of joe and sit a spell, day-dreamin’. 
Too many choices, that’s what.